John Capano's neighbors on Frankel Road in Massapequa knew him as a man they wanted to live near. He inquired about people's health, he offered a helping hand when it was needed, and he didn't walk away from anything.

"The whole community felt better knowing John was here," said Phil Healey, a friend and neighbor of Capano's for 15 years, who is also president of the area civic association.

He described Capano, 51, as "exacting" and "methodical," and a man who loved his wife and two children. Other neighbors along the block described Capano in glowing terms, and as a man who put others' needs ahead of his own.

Capano, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, died Saturday afternoon in the aftermath of a Seaford pharmacy robbery in which the suspect, whom police Sunday identified as James McGoey, 43, of Hampton Bays, was shot and killed. An explosives expert, Capano volunteered and served 23 months with the ATF in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This is a big loss to everybody in the community and the country, too," Healey said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and his wife, Rosemary, described Capano, whom they both knew well, in heroic terms. And Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Williams, who worked on cases with Capano, characterized him as a caring and dedicated investigator.

"John was deeply dedicated to law enforcement and a relentless investigator who believed in public service," Williams said. "And as if his ATF work wasn't dangerous enough, he volunteered twice," in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He was always looking to serve."

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Scott Parlatore recalled that on New Year's Eve day, Capano asked about Parlatore's daughter, who had been ill. Like other neighbors, Parlatore knew that Capano's mother, Helen, had died two weeks earlier, on Dec. 16, and now he was asking about a neighbor's child.

"The last words he said to me were, 'I hope everything goes well with her,' " Parlatore recalled. He said they spoke minutes before the federal agent left his home to run errands at a dry cleaner and a pharmacy in nearby Seaford.

"If he would have gone to the dry cleaner's first, who knows?" Parlatore said. "He's the type of guy to get involved."

Neighbor Gary Spero, who lives around the corner from Capano, said he knew him from Capano's frequent walks around the neighborhood with the family beagle. "He always made an effort to say hello," Spero said.

Another neighbor, Harriet Carley, said she had watched as Capano taught his two children -- John Jr., now a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, and Natalie, a sophomore at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip -- to ride bikes on the quiet suburban streets by their home.

"He was a really good father to his children," Carley said. "He was a very fine gentleman. He always had a pleasant smile and greeting."

Capano grew up in Seaford, where his family was active in St. William the Abbot Roman Catholic Church, and was one of six children.

Rosemary King taught John Capano at the Seaford Avenue School in the 1969-70 school year, when John was 9 and 10 years old.

"John Capano was a lovable little devil . . . He kept you on your toes, but he was always trying to outpace me," she said. "I'd try to keep ahead of him and he always circled around and ambushed me."

Peter King said his first impressions of Capano came in stories told by his wife.

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"He was the most energetic kid in the class, had the most personality, a great kid, in and out of trouble, but she could never be mad at him," King said. "I'd never met the kid, but he was already a legend in my mind, full of life, outgoing."

Capano "passed the ultimate test" in his work, "and paid the ultimate price in his own community," King said. "To die like that in your own community, four or five blocks, a five-minute walk, in fact, from where his father lives and where he [John] grew up, is just a tragedy."

At Seaford High School, from which Capano graduated in 1978, he was a stand-out hockey player who also played basketball and baseball, said Gregory Rosati, 52, of Franklin Square, who described himself as one of Capano's two best friends in high school.

"He would give you the shirt off his back," Rosati said.

Capano settled into his career as an ATF agent and in recent years volunteered for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to help authorities investigate explosions and explosive devices, ATF officials said.

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John Durham, another federal prosecutor, who worked with Capano on cases, said of his friend: "He returns safely from the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ends up as a hero . . . But in a way, I'm not surprised. He was an incredible guy, dedicated, hardworking."

With Sarah Crichton, Robert Kessler and Mark Harrington